Computer chaos hits DWP
26 November 2004
Civil servants have been using pen and ink to process benefit claims this week after a software upgrade at the Department and Work and Pensions went horribly wrong
Thousands of staff at the UK's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were forced to revert to writing out giro cheques and process benefit payments by hand after a week-long failure in 80% of their computer systems.
The problems started on Monday when a routine software upgrade turned into what is described at the biggest computer failure in government history.
DWP computer screens, used by civil servants in pensions offices, Job Centre Plus and the Child Support Agency, went blank. Speaking to Government Computing News on 26 November 2004, a spokesperson for the department said that the IT problems have affected staff randomly.
"Some people have full access to systems while others have problems accessing their business systems, such as email, print and file sharing," she said.
The disruption echoes IT failures at the Post Office this summer which prevented thousands of pensioners from collecting benefits payments and also the long-term problems at the Child Support Agency, which led to the resignation of it chief executive.
The DWP said its supplier EDS, which has a £2bn outsourcing contract with the department, has been working overnight to resolve the problems and that 95% of users can now access their systems. The remaining problems are likely to be resolved today.
The department claims that the impact on the public has been minimal and that pensioners and benefit recipients have continued to receive their payments as usual.
However, the DWP admits that it has taken staff longer than normal to deal with new or amended claims.
Civil service union the PCS said: "It hasn't largely affected payments because staff are having to making amendments by hand. If this had happened two years down the line, once the proposed job cuts had taken place, we could have seen people who rely on benefits going without."
Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary Steve Webb believes that the vulnerable have once again been let down by the DWP. "It is time that an independent body like the National Audit Office took a close look at the DWP and its computer problems and pressed the department to get this mess sorted out once and for all."
Source: Kable's Government Computing
Publication date: 26/11/2004 10:35:39